Peter Mancuso went to bed on election night thinking he had won an eighth term on the Morris Township committee.
But when he awoke on Wednesday, the unofficial results showed he had lost to Democrat Jeff Grayzel by 654 votes. Grayzel’s running mate, Committeewoman Donna Guariglia, also won, defeating far-right candidate Sherry Nardolillo for a two-year unexpired term.
Those victories handed Democrats their first 5-0 control of the governing body — the same advantage Republicans enjoyed when Mancuso was elected for the first time in 1978.
“The people have spoken,” Mancuso, 85, said on Wednesday morning. “I’m here to do the will of the people. I did the will of the people for 21 years.”
He expressed respect for the 58-year-old Grayzel — a veteran of 13 campaigns, three recounts and one special election who has clinched his fourth non-consecutive term–and for Guariglia, recent president of the local League of Women Voters chapter.
“She’s a very good person, I think she will do a very good job,” said Mancuso, whose lengthy service has earned him the honorary title of “mayor emeritus.” The Township committee selects one of its own for mayoral duties; Mancuso has gotten the nod six times.
Residents owe Mancuso a “debt of gratitude” for his service, Grayzel said on election night.
A former governor of the New York Stock Exchange, Mancuso said he has savored his years as an elected official nearly as much.
“I have loved every single minute I’ve been a part of this committee. I will treasure it till my last.”
Although Mancuso wouldn’t rule out a future bid for office, he called it unlikely.
“Life closes one door and another one opens. I’m looking very forward to the rest of my life. My health is good, I feel reasonably well. I will go on from here,” Mancuso said.
His list of volunteer positions on civic boards and nonprofits is about as long as Woodland Avenue, where he has spent countless evenings in the municipal building at Township committee meetings.
‘WE’LL SEE HOW THINGS WORK OUT’
Mancuso prides himself on being pragmatic and politically moderate. Courteous and diplomatic, he chooses his words carefully. He was ambivalent about what impact, if any, Nardolillo’s presence in the race had on his outcome.
“Maybe it helped in certain ways, maybe it hurt in certain ways,” he said, echoing his opinion of Donald Trump’s impact on the GOP.
Nardolillo went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and is secretary of the Morris chapter of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that has pushed to ban books in schools.
Although they did not campaign together, Mancuso said he stayed in touch with Nardolillo and “our politics were probably 85 to 90 percent the same.”
Yet he said it was “important that I run to represent my constituency. And that’s what I did. I was Peter…I was happy to be me and do what I do,” he said.
As for the what’s ahead for his party, nationally and locally, he is curious.
“Look, you know I’m a moderate, and I believe in moderation. And what I want is for the Republican party to feel more like I do…We’ll see how things work out.”
Once a GOP bastion in Republican Morris County, the Township has mirrored the county’s gradation from red to purple in recent years.
Registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans by about 1,000 voters in this municipality of nearly 23,000 people. Unaffiliated voters are the largest voting bloc.
Mancuso ran for committee in the 1970s to oppose state plans to wend Route 24 through the Township. He served for nine years, then bowed out for a quarter-century, he said, to help his wife Lois raise their four boys. Upon retirement, he returned to politics.
He said he leaves with no regrets.
“I believe in ethics. I believe in being a good person. I don’t believe in dirty politics. I think in 21 years, nobody could accuse me of being anything less than ethical.”
Instrumental in crafting municipal budgets, Mancuso is confident the Township will be fine as it emerges from the pandemic.
“We have been working very hard the last two years, even with a Democratic majority. I think the Township is in good shape.”
Choosing career highlights is hard just yet. “Twenty-one years went by like a week and a half,” Mancuso mused. The key thing he learned along the way?
“There were other points of view besides my own,” said the mayor emeritus.